PULLMAN – In shorts, jerseys and helmets, football players can only suggest how they will play at full speed in pads.
But other characteristics can be revealed, especially on a team that underperformed last fall and has something to prove.
Washington State head coach Nick Rolovich was pleased with what he saw following the Cougars’ first day of spring practice.
“There was a much higher energy level than before,” Rolovich said. “Guys were out there early. Twenty minutes before practice, most of the team was out there.
“Competition was clean in that iron-sharpens-iron way. They understand much better than in the fall why they are here.
“There was a real togetherness,” he added, giving a nod to his coaching staff for forging that bond in winter workouts.
The Cougars were without last year’s starting quarterback, Jayden de Laura, who is serving an ongoing team suspension. But the quarterbacks on the field – Cammon Cooper, Jarrett Guarantano, Xavier Ward and Victor Gabalis – were all successful in consistently knowing where to go with the ball and delivering it accurately, in Rolovich’s estimation.
“With the run-and-shoot, a year makes a big difference for these guys,” Rolovich said.
Ryan Liam, WSU’s senior veteran offensive tackle, expects the first few practices to be rough for the offense as it develops timing. But he echoed Rolovich in suggesting the offensive line is already unified.
“If we mess up, we mess up together,” he said.
Instead of lining up with the Cougars one more time, Liam could be sweating out the NFL draft this month. Playing professional football is his ultimate goal, Liam said, but he wants to gain a final win against the pandemic first.
“I want to finish my senior year the correct way, not just with four games (that WSU played last fall),” he said.
“I’m going to put my full effort into it.”
Another WSU veteran, redshirt senior linebacker Jahad Woods, is also glad to be back for one more season with the current coaching staff.
“I’ve been through a couple of coaching staffs,” he said. “The biggest thing is gaining that relationship with coaches. I love them all. I love (defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jake) Dickert. I am very happy to be here.”
The Cougars spent the majority of the spring’s first 2-hour workout in position groups on the practice field adjacent to Martin Stadium. Rolovich moved among the groups and even threw some passes in a 6-on-7 session among defensive backs and linebackers.
Throughout the course of the 15 spring practices, Rolovich said he wants the players to sustain the tone they set the first day. It will give the Cougars momentum heading into the summer, he said.
The effort the Cougars put forth reflected WSU values in a way that alumni could get behind, Rolovich said.
The successful start to spring practice also helps put the disappointment of last fall’s 1-3 season a little more out of their minds.
“We went through a tough year,” Rolovich said. “We don’t want to do that again. I was very proud to coach this football team today.”
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